Veteran scuba diver dies in Blue Hole caves that had been sealed for 40 years

The Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, was the site of another diving tragedy.
The Blue Hole near Santa Rosa, New Mexico, was the site of another diving tragedy. Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

A series of underwater caves under the legendary Blue Hole near Santa Rosa, New Mexico, were closed in 1976 after two scuba divers from Oklahoma got lost inside and died. Forty years later, history has repeated itself.

Shane Thompson, 43, was among several elite divers with the ADM Exploration Foundation that obtained rare permission to enter the caves over the weekend for a multiple-day exploration, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune and Associated Press.

Thompson, a scuba diving instructor from San Diego, and Mike Young were looking for passageways, Young told investigators. Young entered a small chamber 194 feet deep through a narrow obstruction and Thompson followed.

“Shane was supposed to stay out, and for whatever reason entered the cave,” Santa Rosa police officer Mike Gauna told The Guadalupe County Communicator, according to the Union-Tribune. “At that point, that’s where everything went terribly wrong.”

From the Union-Tribune:

Young started to exit the area following a safety line but silt had been kicked up and there was zero visibility. As he swam, Thompson pulled on the line so forcefully that it came out of Young’s hands, Gauna said.

As he felt for the line in the dark, Thompson came up from below and both divers were wedged in the narrow passageway.

Young swam down to turn around but Thompson continued upward and took a wrong turn and became trapped in what was described as an unmapped offshoot that led nowhere.

By the time Young found Thompson, he had died, Gauna said. His body was recovered the next day.

The Blue Hole is a popular swimming and diving destination featuring clear blue water
The Blue Hole is a popular swimming and diving destination featuring clear blue water. Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

The Blue Hole is a popular tourist destination for swimming and diving in clear blue water. It is a circular, bell-shaped pool that expands from 80 feet in diameter at the surface to 130 feet at the bottom. It is considered one of the best diving spots in the American Southwest.

Thompson was a veteran scuba diver, learning the sport at a young age while growing up in the Florida Keys. He worked for an underwater construction company before starting numerous diving businesses involving boat maintenance, salvage work and training.

The tragedy led Young to declare the caves too unsafe for future diving explorations, going so far as to tell Gauna they should be sealed for good.

“He recommends to our city officials never, ever to let anybody back in those caves,” Guana told the Communicator. “The word that was given to me that day was these are the most dangerous caves they’ve ever dived anywhere.”

On Thursday, officials told the Associated Press via ABC News that no more exploration or surveying of the underwater cave system is planned. The divers, who had been surveying the caves, locked the grate at the bottom of the Blue Hole to prevent anyone from entering them.

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